School Killers Stir Muted Sympathy

Since March, China has been plagued by a spate of horrific copycat murders. On May 12 a man hacked seven kindergartners and two adults to death with a cleaver; this came on the heels of five reported assaults on Chinese schoolchildren in which 17 were killed and almost 100 injured. All the alleged murderers were poor, middle-aged men.

Given the reprehensible nature of these crimes--which hit at the heart of a country where most families have only one child--it's surprising that some Chinese are expressing a muted sympathy for the murderers. Yet the killers' motives--which range from property disputes and business failures to loneliness--touch a chord with ordinary citizens, who are also struggling with China's rapid modernization. Some Chinese Netizens, in particular, are placing the blame on social injustices. "They're not bad people," says Xie Xueluan, a leading sociologist at Peking University. Rather, he says they're driven mad by anger that they didn't get rich as fast as their neighbors. Popular blogger Han Han posted that "one of the great causes of these murders is social injustice and unfairness."

Beijing has been quick to assure that it will address the root causes blamed for the acts--and it's been equally quick to censor news of attacks. China's leaders are well aware of the powder keg that domestic tensions can become. But the question now is whether the party can sweep these incidents under the rug, or whether they mark a new tipping point of popular discontent with China's social conditions, in which many are feeling left behind.